As a first-generation student, Luz Maria Gordillo remembers feeling completely overwhelmed when she started classes at Brooklyn College. If it hadn’t been for her drive to succeed and a faculty member who took special interest in her success, she might have never graduated and developed a passion for academia.
Gordillo is now assistant dean in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), and has spent her career focused on social justice. The impact her faculty mentor and other role models had on her education is a big reason she recently became a faculty mentor in WSU’s Team Mentoring Program (TMP). Gordillo took to heart what a colleague once told her: mentoring is not an option – it is an obligation.
“Part of why I’m participating in TMP is to fulfill my obligation of passing my knowledge along and making sure the young generation has a role model that can help them navigate higher education and make sure they are successful,” Gordillo said.
TMP provides a comprehensive support network for underrepresented students in STEM and pre-health majors through a combination of peer, faculty, and alumni mentors. The program, which began in 2007, is designed to increase students’ retention, achievement, and graduation.
TMP Director Samuel Rodriguez-Flecha said WSU faculty like Gordillo play a key role in the program. Many serve as mentors to students, helping them increase their academic portfolio, build leadership skills, and develop a professional network. Faculty members also provide research opportunities for TMP students in a wide variety of disciplines such as protecting trees against bark beetles, West Nile virus immune suppression, emerging technologies in human-robot interaction, and the health of bee colonies.
“For many faculty, getting students involved in their research projects is part of their mission and complements what they want to accomplish,” Rodriquez-Flecha said.
Supporting future leaders
This fall, Rodriguez-Flecha welcomed a new TMP class of over 380 second-year and transfer students on the Pullman campus. Those students have been matched with one of 24 junior and senior student mentors. Each student mentor is paired with a faculty mentor.
Gordillo, who works on the WSU Vancouver campus and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence for CAHNRS system-wide, said she believes faculty participation in programs like TMP is critical to helping underrepresented students graduate and gain experience in disciplines that are vital to the state’s future economy.
“For CAHNRS, to be involved in the Team Mentoring Program is to help produce successful and confident scientists of color who will lead industries in the state of Washington,” Gordillo said. “This is our opportunity to enhance participation, talent, creativity, and innovation.”
Recent statistics show TMP is having a significant impact on student success. Of the mentees who are active in TMP, 85% stay enrolled or graduate. Of the same group, 77% stay in a STEM/health major, compared to 68% of those who are not active.
TMP’s success has garnered financial support from corporations like Alaska Airlines and Boeing, and in spring 2023 it received a grant from the Washington Research Foundation.
Rodriguez-Flecha said faculty participation is key to getting that kind of support, and he encourages interested faculty to participate in TMP.
“The problems our world is tackling these days are very interdisciplinary and can’t be solved in just one field,” he said. “Helping to expand and connect how students can look at their career development, and their options, is paramount for this new generation.”
Faculty interested in getting involved with TMP can contact Rodriguez-Flecha at firstname.lastname@example.org. He said the time commitment is reasonable for faculty, who are asked to mentor one or two students and connect with their mentee(s) three or four times a semester.
“For faculty considering becoming a mentor, this opportunity will change their lives if they jump into it wholeheartedly,” Gordillo said. “They will learn so much from their mentees and it is so gratifying.”